THE KENYAN QUARTER LIFE CRISIS

In Nation FM studios

How many here are working in a field they didn’t pursue in college? Hands up please! One, two, three…there is clearly a huge number. I am no different. It’s been three months since I graduated yet I haven’t picked my certificate or transcripts from my alma mater.

My father is disappointed, my mother is sad, my relatives are worried, while my engineering mentors and supervisors are confused by my decision. “Why did you waste 5 years in college only to switch careers?” “ Why would you move away from a safe career in engineering to the media industry , which is unpredictable? The last concern is genuine, I might be out of my job by the time you are reading this, that’s how unpredictable my chosen career path is, and strange enough that doesn’t scare me.

These are the first few months of my life as young adult, it is confusing and somehow terrifying period. I’m facing the quarter life crisis. Basically, the quarter life crisis is afflicts people aged 25-35. This is the period whereby you are struggling to cope with anxieties about jobs, unemployment, debt, relationships and the need to achieve a lot before hitting 30.

Last night, I was shooting breeze with a couple of good friends when this topic came up. To my surprise most of us have been in this crisis since we turned 22 years old and from the look of things my friends and I are far from getting over the quarter life crisis. Alright, I understand this is somehow confusing for you, how about you get comfortable so that I tell you all about my career crisis right from the beginning. Are you ready?

During my early years of schooling I dreamed of becoming a science professor or an engineer when I grew up. I am not sure this was entirely my idea, see if you were a bright student like I was  back then, your parents and teachers gave you four main career choices; pilot, doctor, engineer or lawyer. These were considered to be the most prestigious careers. Careers in music, sports and farming were believed to be for academic dwarfs (hehehe its been long since I last heard someone use this phrase )

In high school I was still top two in my class, my love for physics increased in leaps and bounds. I would spend hours in the school library going through encyclopedias by the name ‘How it works’ since Google was unheard of. By form two pursuing Computer Science in college was every young man’s dream. I remember going to funkies with a 1GB Sahara flash disk conspicuously hanging from my neck. Believe you me that was akin to driving a Range Rover now. Rocking the flash disk meant you were techsavvy and the teenage girls loved it. It was during this period that I had fleeting thoughts of being an ICT expert.

During my final year, the Rotary Club members paid my high school a visit. They had different professionals in separate rooms showcasing exactly what the career entailed and gave advice to the young boys on how they could end up like them. I went to two stands, the first one was manned by a pharmacist.

I never had any intentions of pursuing a career in pharmacy. However, the lady manning that particular stand was more beautiful and sophisticated than my classmates and I had seen in a long time. I had only seen such ladies in movies. The only thing I heard during the whole presentation was that one had to literally sweat blood to become a pharmacist. I spent the rest of the time ogling at her enticing cleavage, her luscious purple lips and fantasizing about what lay beneath that tight dress. I’m sure several months after the visit many still had wet dreams about her.

The second stand I went to was manned by an engineer. A typical engineer, thick glasses, overgrown beard and mismatched socks! He made a PowerPoint presentation on what lead to the collapse of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attack. I was more than impressed by his intelligence and that moment I knew I wanted to be a civil engineer.  I filled that as the first choice on my varsity applications.

December 1st 2008 was the day I joined Facebook and two other social media sites Mocospace and Cellufun. Back then, most parents would buy their kids a 2G internet enabled phone after KCSE, a sharp contrast to today when primary school kids have powerful 4G enabled smartphones. It is through Mocospace that I got my first virtual girlfriend, Leyla. The poor girl probably didn’t even know we were in a relationship.

I never met Leyla until years later but from her pictures she was more beautiful than Cleopatra and Amber Rose combined. I would spend most days and nights chatting with her. She would send emojis with every joke I cracked, which made me feel like the most humorous teen ever. Well this changed when she joined college and I was still stuck at home. Having passed my form four exams, I had to wait for almost two years to join campus on a government scholarship.

She dropped me and stopped replying to my texts all together since I was no longer cool. Never before have I been that heart broken. Luckily I’m not one to easily give up, I convinced my longtime friend Ndeti to let me use his profile to chat with the magical Leyla every Thursday evening. This went on well until one day I asked what happened to me and her (of course pretending to be Ndeti). She said something like, “Leave alone that retarded kid. His parents must be so disappointed to have such a dumb kid

I’m not going to pretend, that night I cried myself to sleep. The following few months I pressed my parents day and night to take me to a deejaying school. They didn’t understand how all over sudden I had decided to switch careers from an engineer to a DJ. In all honesty I just wanted to be cool so that Leyla would accept me back.

Nonetheless, I joined college to pursue my bachelors in engineering. The first year was tough especially the drawing and calculus classes but I still managed to ace most courses. It was in my second year that reality hit me. All the perceptions I had about engineering before joining campus were not real. It was not as interesting and exciting as I had been made to believe.

It is during that phase that I penned my first blog, Is Varsity Education Really Worth It?, which was more of a letter to my family explaining to them why I had to drop out of college. I spent half of that semester swimming, hopping from one party to another and skipping my classes. I was lost, confused, trying hard to find a reason to continue with my studies.

This was one of the defining moments in my life. I realized campus was not really about what I learnt in class rather the experience and connections I made during my stay there. I went back to campus with a renewed sense of focus, developed my writing career and set up a few businesses although most failed.

This brings us to my current situation, I am a trained civil engineer working as TV & radio producer, and yes you heard that right! I love every minute of it.

Having undertaken my three internships in engineering firms, I realized that despite spending five years on campus pursuing civil engineering that’s not what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life. I am a creative, I thrive in a fast-paced workplace where I tackle new challenges every single day. Civil engineering is somehow chilled. Most work involves crunching numbers and churning out drawings with little human interaction. In addition, for mega-infrastructural projects a civil engineer does the same thing for like three straight months.

I have made my decision, I will pursue what my heart wants and that is to touch lives and inspire more people to make a positive impact to the societies they live in through my writing, radio and TV.

I can’t count the number of times men and women who care about me have tried to convince me to ‘get back to my senses’. I will admit it, venturing into a field I didn’t pursue in college hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I lay awake at night and wonder what will happen if my bosses realize I’m not as talented as they think I am and sack me when I have already have a wife and kids. Will I wish I had picked the safe bet, engineering?

It is during these moments of doubt that I convince myself that even if I fail I will be happy with the knowledge that fear did not hold me back from going after my wildest dreams.

In retrospect, most people make their career choices based on fear of the unknown. They make safe bets citing job security and try to impose this on people like us. What they don’t understand is that you and I are different. We are making our choices based on hope and courage. We are non-conformists, rebels.  We either win big or lose big, moderation is not our thing.

I’m saddened by how to this date most people still don’t understand that education is meant to open up our minds. Just because you pursued accounting in college doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest your life working as an accountant if you love doing something else.

I am one young man who is also terrified, yet wakes up every morning and goes after his dreams with full knowledge of what’s at stake. Are facing the quarter life crisis? Are you going to pursue a career because it is safe, your parents, relatives or mentors think it is right for you or because that’s what your heart truly desires?

Remember, life is not a rehearsal so think carefully before making your choice!

Written By Mark Maina

68 Comments

Add Yours
  1. 1
    Njeri

    This spoke to me. straight to my heart. i am in the same crisis only that i have no job, having lost one that i disliked. and yes, i like new experiences and fast paces. i realized that i like things that work the brain more than the muscles and that is probably why i never succeeded in that job. i hope i can finally find my footing some day.

  2. 3
    Denis

    How amazing that you are following your heart. Am also in a similar crisis, am still to get done with my 5 years of engineering and i have to say that disaster in campus starts the day you realize that your passion and your course are two different paths.
    How i wish; the society understood the real essence of education…… which is to transform an empty mind into an open mind that sees opportunities… And if education has achieved that, then you are an educated man.
    You share a similar story with Ben kiruthi http://benkiruthi.com/blog3/ who is a trained electrical engineer but doing photography, currently he is most sort after wedding photographer in Kenya.Thank you for the post and keep doing what you like and you will definitely be the best in it.

    • 4
      MarkMaish

      Well said Denis. I admire how you were able to use your talents and develop a business even before leaving campus. We should share out your story with other young people facing the quarter-life crisis

  3. 5
    Sherry

    I face the same thing I wake up and head to the farm with a jembe, something I wanted to get into as soon as I graduated in 2012 but as luck would have it ihas to look for secure job. So I did, and I failed. Now am happy I did because I am learning so much more where I am than where I would have been. I studies film by the way, I love writing but soil is in my heart. Every time I pass an undeveloped place I see it as a potential plot farm! Lol! Pursue what you love.

  4. 6
    Ernest

    I would like an audience with this kid. In as much as he speaks from the heart, he seems to forget that there were people who started the same place he did, but taught themselves how to love what they do- as most of us men do when there’s limited opportunity. Sure everyone can speak a little English, write it down and mix a little music on radio and what have you. But few men can fully analyze an indeterminate structure and love every moment of it. It’s called mettle son…don’t blame those who had it or those who decided to muster it up. How else can man claim to live if not by perseverance and self discipline.

  5. 7
    kendi

    That is a grand step you took right there. We are quick to chase after where ‘the money’ is, only to end up living a life feeling compelled to impress,followed by feelings of disappointment and failure then end up indulging in life threatening behaviours to calm the mind. Before you know it you are crippled by stagnation and stress related illnesses kick in.
    Your right. Life isn’t a rehearsal.

    • 8
      jacque

      Am also in such a crisis, yet to graduate with a procurement certificate but am not sure whether that is what i wanted to do.my passion is in poetry and other writings but i just had to do that maybe to please the society.Am hoping that someday i will have the courage to follow my dreams.

  6. 10
    Eugene

    I’ve been raised by my mother. She did the one unlikely things – let us pursue our passions after high-school. I have always been the A student, I was the best student in my year in KCSE. Yet, I’ve always been an artist.

    As much as I enjoyed and excelled at the sciences, I always knew I’d be happiest in the arts. Despite my exemplary performance in high-school, I didn’t go to campus. Instead I chose to join the best art college I knew in Nairobi- which offered diplomas. I did my diploma in art & design, but never went on for a degree as papers and a safe job were never my priority. I was instead, all along, more focused on becoming the best portfolio-wise at my work. The output.

    It somehow worked well for me because I was employed and pouched by a different design agency thereafter, and in all these, my employers were much impressed by my work that they never asked to see my papers. I have since gone into freelance work & consultancy, and learnt programming by myself and things have worked out pretty well. I really can’t complain.

    My advice if I may, deep down, one always know the truth. The truth about what one needs to do. We may not always accept it but we always know it. Following this truth is the most liberating thing one can ever do. It’s the reason why I always woke up very happy on Mondays and went to work ready to conquer the world.

    • 11
      denis

      hie Eugene, i like your work. Your story is a perfect example of what passion can do. When i first saw http://www.rao.co.ke i thought for a moment; these guys may have sourced an oversees firm for the project… when i saw that it was from a local firm, i was soo impressed. Keep up the good work.

  7. 14
    Roy

    Very true.. I have always admired being an entrepreneur but due to family expectation i decided to find a white collar job.. trust me its not my thing thanks have realized this early.. instead of being stuck in this middle life crisis am ending this soon..

  8. 17
    Wambui

    .i can totaly relate to this,and yes,i am in my quarter life crisis…i studied bcom in campus,my parents keep sending me job openings in bcom related fields,but i love to make jewelry and thats what i would rather do,but they do not understand.currently working at a totaly different firm from what i did in school or what i love to do

  9. 20
    Beatrice

    Wow! Totally what I’m going through. My challenge is choosing the employment path or entrepreneurship. I graduated in 2014, so every time people ask, “umepata job” I don’t know what to tell them. I have not been job seeking for a while because I wanted to try out self employment. But the pressure out here is so big and sometimes I feel like I’m making a mistake.

    • 21
      wanjagi

      Same thing happening to me right now. I graduated last year & am not seeking to be actively employed, I want to venture into entrepreneurship but I can totally relate with the pressure. I would love to know how you are fairing on, what did you opt to do?

  10. 22
    Laura

    Thanks for sharing this. The problem with quarter- or mid-life crisis is that they never seem to end or melt into one another. It’s more like you are just pivotting through your life. But it is very inspiring that you took one of your hardest moments as inspiration and motivation. In the darkest moments we often truly find what we stand for.
    On another note: Security is fictional. There is no such thing as a secure job. Better follow your passion now before it’s too late and you wake up in a big bed in a big house and you are fourty but don’t really know why you are doing this anymore.

  11. 23
    jacky njoki

    Dear Maish,
    That’s indeed the truth about life.I did a different degree in KU which was not related to Engineering and now am dealing with engineering related items.At times our parents will be disappointed with us but God hold our destiny.Our ways are not God’s ways.

    • 24
      brian

      I finished school in 2011 and I had a c- my dad tried to convince me to repeat but that wasn’t my plan so he even disowned me I started selling coffee in thika town during weekdays and yogurt on Sunday am now the ceo of a company Aquarld Investment which deals in aquariums, water features, interior and landscaping design we now have a full workshop and am planning to join school next year

  12. 27
    Qyp

    Mark you hit it today spot on.I think I belong in the same club as you.Never love what I went to school to study,it seems dull,boring even hectic and myself its polar opposite ;outgoing,fast-paced and blah blah blah …. but why would we block dreams in the name of work, life and profession?

  13. 28
    Essy

    Thanks soooo much Mr Mark. Although mine is a different scenario, I am sort of in the same boat of people thinking that I’m crazy. I have decided to relocate back to Kenya after graduating abroad. My family and people around me are like why leave a land with opportunities, fail to pursue a masters degree and climb the corporate ladder….but instead chose to come back to Kenya? I have tried explaining, but they wont understand. That is not everybody’s goal in life. Everybody has their own version of success in life and that one is not necessarily mine. I have chosen to follow my heart because the most depressing think Mark for you and I will be looking back 20-30 years from now and being like, I wish I had done this and this….That is the worst thing ever! There is a blessing for those who chose to follow their hearts. I chose to come back to Kenya, because this is where my heart truly belongs. Follow your heart Mike.

  14. 32
    Sam

    Hi maish am glad that your desire is to work to transform lives by following your heart, I have also been in the same crisis. Since 2nd year I realized engineering as it is taught is not as interesting as is advertised. Am currently running a program that I hope will inspire and transform the mind of young children before they get programmed into the unrealistic imagined life…I believe we were meant to live li fe like kids…they are not afraid of the future nor are ashamed of the past …they act as their heart desire .May be that’s why the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. Help me spread the word and contribute to these campaign link https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ogen-children-computer-camp–2#/trust_passport

  15. 33
    Dan

    Nice one. Good to know am not alone and that someone else out there has made it. At 22, that is my biggest worry but i am determined because i now know what i really want.

  16. 35
    ZeeCee

    I’m so glad you decided to chase your own dreams and were not scared back into doing something you hated by pressure from others. Particularly within the black community there is a lot of pressure to be certain things, lawyers, doctors, engineers. The creative field sadly is not yet respected as much as it should be, which is a shame. Loved this post, really resonated.

  17. 36
    Daudi

    Perfect! Right on time before i make a dangerous mistake. i just cleared campus and my dream is pulling me to a realm totally different from what the course I’ve been studying has been preparing me for. the four years are not wasted though. Priceless lesson

  18. 37
    Nelly

    I came across this today! though late, as I researched on ‘quarter life crisis’ as it’s my project this semester.Inspirational content,I’m in that tide too.

  19. 38
    Abed

    Am just imagining the time you have struggled. only to second you that many are pushed by desires from different sources that are undefined. Doing what your heart really wants is the best choice. I like your life testimony to the society and more so to the those who are double-minded. Was in the same, once I completed high school, never went to campus since Religion was and is my world, I joined a theological school for four years something that has really changed my life.

    I love what i do and society is determined to learn. Experience is the best teacher and by the way the knowledge and skills acquired is rewarding. At my profession as religious teacher, also managed to go back in college not to further my studied but in a totally different field “ICT”. It just happened when i could not overcome the interest i had towards Technology.

    This has expanded my thinking and as you have mentioned earlier, It not about what you learn only matters but also the experience and connections you make during the stay in either campus or college. Am really encouraged by your take, it is not what people say you can do but what you feel you can do. Looking forward to meet you for live talk/chat on how we can help many who are in the same crisis of what way to go! God bless you Mark.

  20. 39
    Ngugi KM

    Informative! Creative!
    Continue doing what you love.
    Do you still practice civil engineering? I’m an arch I could get structural drawings from you! hehe
    Anyway, good and thoughtful engagement there.

  21. 41
    dexter

    With two degrees and a diploma and all i want is to start my own business and start an NGO that will feed cloth and provide shelter and education to the less privileged….education is not about the papers but that’s what our current job search is all about papers and more papers….i relate with you…all the years of study and yet i can’t stand a job that is in the field that i studied…

  22. 43
    Xavier

    I bet most young people are in the same boat. Nowadays I see myself going into the media highway with my blog. And I just wanted to write about my interest.
    Good work.

  23. 45
    Nuriya Girma

    You’re an amazing and seemingly selfless writer. Thank you for all your posts for you have helped me more than you might know and all the best. Keep at it!

  24. 49
    Olive

    very true… I have always been an A student. my parents are high school teachers. so they also wanted me to do teaching.. l just graduated from versity with first class. I feel I don’t belong there as much as they want me to pursue my masters in linguistics a broad!!! ooh no, wanna be a agribusiness Lady….!!

  25. 51
    Morris

    Dude your career choice is a direct reflection of mine..I am trained teacher and ever since I graduated in 2013, I have been doing what I love..fashion, design and writing..there is no greater satisfaction than doing what you love rather than sticking with a career you despise just for the sake of leading a “safe” life

  26. 53
    Winnie

    Hi Mark, I still don’t believe you left Civil Eng to do what you do now. Honestly, when I first saw you last year at the ACoRCE conference KICC doing that presentation for your final year research project, I thought damn this guy has a bright future in the construction industry. So I admired you. He has got it all going for him, he is handsome, a genious,courageous and probably a prestigious company(s) has already offered Jim a well paying job. But again I thought he is too cool again. He can fit to be a musician or something. Then they mentioned you work at a radio(would like to know which and what time your show is). I wasn’t thinking that far, I again thought. So I am not that shocked you have changed your carriers.
    This piece is inspiring. I too just completed my Construction Management course last December (still to graduate) and I am in my quarter life crisis. I have done several applications but I still wonder if that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s confusing and scary. Actually I was scared of the new year and wished 2015 would stay still and time to freeze to give me more time to figure things out. Got lot’s of questions, how do I figure out what I love doing most? Do I still want to be stuck at a job that I am not comfortable with, I mean I don’t like the be at at work at this time to this time? Makes no sense to me if I end up just pushing the day having achieved totally nothing. My mind is on fire with so may questions. How I figure things out?
    Winnie.

    • 54
      MarkMaish

      Hi Winnie! Thank you, I’m flattered. The conference reignited my love for engineering so I decided to revive my little construction firm. I produce & host #VocalNation which is on Nation FM 96.3, 8-11pm Mon-Fri. Our main target audience is the youth especially those in campus. I also work as marketer in a media company, Africa InSight. I switched careers after discovering I’m a creative hence need to work in a creative environment where I’m pushed beyond my limits & tasked to do almost impossible stuff. Engineering companies are more structured hence my set of talents not appreciated.

      Congratulations on completion of you undergraduate studies! We all go through the quarter-life crisis after campus so that shouldn’t scare you. Take time off and think about your life, whats that one thing you have been feted most for? Whats that one thing you would do every single day even if nobody pays you? Once you discover what your passion is go for it. I will be honest with you, going to the uncharted path is not easy but its certainly rewarding!

  27. 57
    tabby

    I went through this when I finished my first degree…not knowing if I should do a Masters in what I wanted or what made sense for my career. Great read

  28. 59
    allankeygen

    Cheers!, I’m also going after my dreams, I dropped out of university to pursue my dreams and my parents think I’m mad. Just like you, I was doing civil engineering but I want to use my talent to achieve my dreams. Knowing that there are like minded Kenyans out there gives me hope. I’ve read your articles. My biggest fear is living in regret, so take a risk because you never know what destiny has in store for you. Thanks man!

  29. 60
    Deno Limo

    you are speaking my ‘language.’
    thanks a lot for sharing your story. it inspires me.
    u have i’m 21 and since 19 1/2 yrs i have been building my knowledge on wealth and prosperity in life. im in college and really contemplating on dropping my Bsc. Computer science degree cz it doesn’t make sense but i have resolved to finish it as i do what i’m attracted to Network Marketing to help people meet financial success and time freedom as i do it too.

  30. 66
    victor

    normally i wouldn’t read past the main story, but this particular one has ellicited interest. its inspiring to read. if i may contribute a little, this mid-life crisis has wasted many talents as many end up totally depressed and give up all together. i share the same life pattern as others here. i dropped out of campus while persuing bcomm and again out of college(dip electrical engineering). didn’t want to continue wasting time and resources. now at home figuring things out but happier. thanks for the story

  31. 67
    Warima

    Haha we are many,those of us not pursuing our degree related ventures. I am trained as a financial analyst, actually I am among the few Kenyans who can practice finance legitimately according to the Investment and Financial Analyst Act of 2015. But I don’t practice Finance, I am a writer and a gender activist. But I usually say, the first degree just shows you are trainable

  32. 68
    Mwendwa

    Very good writing. The quarter life crisis is real. I’m glad you found something you love and are actively pursuing success in it. I wish you all the best!!!

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